Trump would run America like Trump University -- badly

Ex-employees describe Trump University as a scam
Ex-employees describe Trump University as a scam

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Story highlights

  • Cheryl Lankford says she was vulnerable after her husband died in Iraq
  • She says her experience with Trump University offers a cautionary tale

Cheryl Lankford is an Army widow who advocates for families of the military's fallen. Her husband served in the Army for 23 years until his death in Iraq in 2007. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

(CNN)I know some voters are trying to figure out which candidate is like themselves. "Who has my values? Who watches out for my interests?" My true story might help make that decision.

It's about how, while trying to start over after my husband died in Iraq, Trump University took my $35,000 and gave me nothing in return. It took money I received from the United States following my husband's death in Baghdad.
    Cheryl Lankford
    In the Army for 23 years, Jonathan was one of the extraordinary few who volunteered for Explosive Ordnance Disposal -- a unit that defuses bombs and improvised explosives. For his bravery, he earned the Legion of Merit, two Bronze Stars, a Meritorious Service Medal, and he was inducted into the Ordnance Corps Hall of Fame. While Jonathan was deployed, I maintained the home front, taking care of our young son while volunteering with the Army.
    Before Jonathan died, I never thought of myself or my family as vulnerable. We were "Army Strong," through and through.
    My vulnerability only came when I lost Jonathan, and having a child scared about what might happen to him, if anything happens to me. Vulnerability comes living each day with a broken heart. Vulnerability comes from being forced to rebuild my life in ways I never expected and never wanted.
    When Jonathan died, the US military gave me a crisply folded flag and a check. Nothing compensates for his loss. I didn't want that money. I would give it back, if you could give me my husband. But once I received it, it was a sacred trust from American taxpayers so I could care for our son.
    I carefully invested the money. But, in 2008, the stock market crashed, and -- like others -- I lost a lot of it overnight.
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    Trump University pushed out of Texas to avoid lawsuit?

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    Then I started getting mail and calls from Trump-affiliated companies offering to "build my brand," do my taxes" and more. Then Trump University contacted me.
    Frankly, I was inspired by Trump and his success. I was excited that I could learn Trump's business techniques.
    So I went to an all-day Trump University workshop. I told them I was a Gold Star wife, starting over. Trump staff promised to teach me everything about real estate. One expert would be my mentor. They said it was a real university, and I'd get a certification like at any school. If I paid for Trump's program, I might make a better living: exactly what I needed. It's exactly what we all want, isn't it?
    I decided I'd already dealt with enough loss, and I would put my money in education.
    But soon after I'd signed up, I knew something was wrong. The written curricula turned out to be a near empty three-ring binder and some DVDs. Then, within days, my "mentor" handed me off to his brother who passed me on to another guy. His only advice was to invest in a trailer park. Then he stopped taking my calls.
    I was shocked, frightened and ashamed. For a long time, I couldn't tell anyone. I avoided calls from reporters asking about Trump University.
    One day, Trump was on TV, running for president, bragging about how rich he was. I was furious. Sure, Trump is rich. He has my start-over money -- and money from countless others. But as I learned how Trump gets his money, I also learned about Hillary Clinton, how she's dedicated 35 years to improving our lives. Every time he took, she gave.
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    I learned if Jonathan had died during his first Iraq deployment, the check would have been for just $12,000. That's all it was, until Clinton, then on the Senate Armed Services Committee, worked with Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel to raise survivor benefits to $100,000.
    I promise you: No amount matches a family's pain. But that check becomes a lifeline. It's enough for a family to start over.
    And it came from the compassion Clinton always brings to public life. Clinton worked for us; Trump worked for himself.
    There's the pattern -- how Trump got and stayed rich. He starts with promises about how he'll take us to places we all want to go. But in reality, the only person who gets there is Trump. That's why I write now a first-hand cautionary tale. I see the false hope he's giving millions who need and deserve better. This time, the entire country is on the line.
    Now I know to look closer and see who is better. That's what I learned at Trump University. I respectfully ask everyone reading this to understand the difference this election will mean to all our lives.